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The trade union Community highlight lessons learned during the pandemic

May 12th 2020

General Secretary of Community Roy Rickhuss reflects on what they have learned from their action to support the most vulnerable during the lockdown

It goes without saying, the last few months have been difficult for many of us. The outbreak of this pandemic caused anxiety and uncertainty for everyone, but particularly for those who have been designated as ‘vulnerable’ by the government. For those of us under lockdown but able to leave our house for essentials, while things have been challenging and we have had to change how we work, and interact with our friends and family, they have been manageable. However, around 1.5 million people have been asked to shield themselves for a minimum of twelve weeks either because of their age or their health. These groups are unable to leave the house even for basics and may not have anyone they can ask for help. For those people, this experience will be particularly challenging, but also lonely. We knew that some of our members would be affected by this – and that we had to find a way to help.

Our union takes its name because we understand the importance of communities, and helping them to thrive is a central part of our work. Formed from the ISTC, the steelworkers union, and KFAT (knitwear, footwear and apparel trades), our membership in our early days was based around industrial communities across the UK. It was through this that we understood that what happens in a community can impact a workplace, and similarly the things that happen in a workplace can have an impact out in those communities too. We have a proud history of practising trade unionism out in communities, and the idea that looking out for one another after you have left work is an essential part of our history, but also our present and our future too. These values have stayed with us as we have evolved, and we continue to encourage our members to be active in their local communities.

Responding to this pandemic is no different. It is by working together in communities, and supporting the most vulnerable that we will get through this. That is why we launched a Members Support Group, made up of Community members from across the UK who have offered to help vulnerable people. Our volunteers have shown us again just how enthusiastic people are about their communities.

So far, we have been able to contact thousands of our most vulnerable members. Volunteers have been able to help people who can’t leave the house to do essential jobs like dog walking and shopping. The phone calls we have been making have also helped those who are alone and really struggling with loneliness from not being able to leave the house, see friends, or even have family visit.

Some members of the support group are our longstanding workplace representatives. But some are members who have not been as active in the union movement yet, and volunteering in their communities allows them to make a difference, while also getting more involved in trade unionism. We will be taking this lesson into our work following the crisis, as it has shown to us that we must continue to think about how we work outside traditional workplace boundaries to help people.

In this age of technology it is easy to forget about what is around you and live too much of our lives online. This pandemic has served to remind people just how important their communities are, whether that be the community that their trade union provides, the fellow parents at the school gates, or their friends and neighbours.

We don’t expect it to be easy to keep activists engaged following the outbreak. As things begin to return to normal, other things will take focus, like getting back to working normally and seeing much missed friends and family. It’s our responsibility as a union, and through the Community Member Support group, to find ways to keep people involved in their communities. Ultimately, even as things return to normal for many of us, there will still be lonely elderly people, people who struggle to go to the shops and people who are unwell in each of our communities, and we should continue to help each other get through normal life too.



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